Monday, March 30, 2009

Pastor V. 2.0... Maybe 1.8...

A letter was read during the worship services at Orchards UMC on Sunday informing the congregation that it was Bishop Grant Hagiya’s intention to appoint me to start a new church in the Vancouver, Wa area July 1, 2009. The reading of that letter brings to fruition over 3 years of work to answer a call that my wife and I have felt from God.

I don’t have a whole lot to write today on the topic, mostly because it is by far the largest thing occupying my thoughts today, and I have written much of my ideas in the pages of this blog over the past couple of years.

I will say this; although my wife and I are beyond excited to be called to this new chapter in our lives of ministry, we enter it with a tear in our eye. We have served Orchards UMC for 9 years. They are are the only church my kids have ever known. I have baptized kids there, I have officiated funerals for dear friends there. I can remember trying to make sense of the attacks on September 11th during a children’s sermon in the sanctuary of that community. I have prayed with families when son’s and daughters, husbands and wives, moms and dads were deployed to very dangerous places for military service, I have rejoiced when soldiers came home to waiting families, These are friends who I chose to share my life with. I say “chose”, because some think that when you are appointed by the Bishop to serve a congregation you are automatically part of a community. That is not the case. You choose to be part of a community. It was wonderful to have friends from that community meet me on the platform after the worship service, and hug me and tell me they loved me, and will miss me, but that they know God is calling me to this work.

The church I feel called to start doesn’t fit well into the United Methodists boxes and categories. There isn’t a manual that I can turn to page 3 paragraph 5 and read how to do this. At this point I have probably as many questions as I have answers, and this blog will be a place where I work out ideas, share thoughts and stories of this journey.

For those of you that read this blog fairly regularly, please be praying for my family and I, as we prepare to begin this chapter. AND be praying for this new community that will be forming in Vancouver, WA. - Pray that this would provide the perfect avenue for those who have given up on a relationship with God will find new life in it, that those who have wanted “church” to make a difference in the world will answer a call to service, that those who have felt alone and lonely in their journeys of faith would find a compassionate community of faith hope , love and service. JUST PRAY.

Have a great week friends!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Coffee with Pastor Suit

Ok I admit it. I am an eavesdropper. As I sit in Mon ami coffee shop today I have spent the last 15 minutes listening to the conversation behind me, as i surf my web site.

I also have to admit that i know nothing of the backgrounds of the people I am going to be writing about, and that i have my own personal “chip on my shoulder” that will affect my hearing of their conversation. And I wish that the clothes they were wearing were different but hey i didn’t get a chance to make the wardrobe call.

The two guys behind me are having a deep conversation about church. One is wearing a black expensive suite and tie with shiny shoes the other is in jeans sweat shirt and converse shoes. Its obvious that the suite guy is either the pastor or on staff in some way at a church and the other guy is deciding weather he wants to be involved with his church in some way.

I wasn’t planning on writing about my two fellow coffee house patrons this morning but I was intrigued by their conversation. Mr. Sweatshirt seemed to pretty knowledgeable about the Christian faith and especially with the teachings of Jesus and had a pretty well thought out theology of community and grace. which is where i think his rub with Pastor suite came in. But what stood out for me was the lengths sweatshirt guys went to to avoid being labeled “liberal”. He said “I don’t wanna sound like a no rules liberal” and other like phrases. To which pastor suit would reply “Oh no i don’t think you are that...” Sweatshirt man jumped from topic to topic ; leaders in the church being divorced, grace those that don’t fit the “behavior” of the congregation. He used phrases like “whose in and whose out, who is like me?.” Pastor suit responded in several ways and ultimately said “well, it takes practice”. I didn’t know if he was saying it takes practice to welcome those who look, act and see the world differently with God’s love... or it takes practice to not be bothered by the fact that people like sweatshirt guy wont be welcomed...

I think Mr. Sweatshirt, as much as he doesn’t want to admit it, is a liberal... DUN DUH DUNNNNNN........ Maybe not in a political agenda sense, but in a “liberty” sense. In fact it took all that I had, not leave my business card on his table, because i was resonating with him on a pretty deep level. BUT I also feel for Pastor Suit and his inability to really address the frustrations Mr. Sweatshirt was struggling with. In my very biased opinion, one was speaking about issues of discipleship and incarnation, the other was talking about organizational identity and church growth. One wanted to know how is being part of this group or church going to make me a more compassionate person and a disciple that connects and transforms the world. One wanted to know how you could be a member of his church.

They ended up talking about some non “churchy” things as the conversation ended.

I wonder how many of these conversations happen all over Vancouver. I wonder how many faithful Christians are struggling to find communities that encourage them and even join them on their journey of discipleship that isn’t rooted in “join my church” but in liberty found only in Jesus.

As a pastor i hope i never find myself in the position of saying “it takes practice...” rather than “what can i do to help you answer this call to be what God is calling you to be?...” After all the Kingdom of God is at hand isn’t it?

your milage may vary...

Monday, March 02, 2009

News that my friend Sisyphus needs to hear

I have been re-learning a lot about Greek and Roman mythology lately. The main reason is that my son has discovered a new series of books called Percy Jackson and the Olympians, which retells many of the stories of Greek mythology with a modern twist. Last week my son and I were getting a hot chocolate and latte' at one of my favorite coffee shops in Vancouver called Mon Ami before he went to school. While we were enjoying our warm beverages I was reading a small local weekly paper that was on the table (I’m sorry i don’t remember the name of the paper or I’d provide a link) Anyway, one of the articles/advertisements was an interesting thought about the myth of Sisyphus, the poor man who angered Zeus and was doomed to push a rock up a hill only to have it roll down the other side for an eternity. The article mentioned a french philosopher named Albert Camus who saw the myth in another light. Camus proposed that the only way Sisyphus could bear such an eternity was if he “loved the rock”. The article then went on to say we should join a gym and work out more. A part of me agrees with Camus, not so much about the joining a Gym part, but changing our attitudes about difficult things. Sometimes the things we dread can become the things we love. But an even larger part of cringes at the idea.
If we talk ourselves into “loving the rock” it may make the task bearable, maybe even enjoyable, but it erases the hopes and dreams of a life. I want to ask what about the dreams for Sisyphus's life, his kids his family? If we talk ourselves into desiring the absurdity of pushing a rock for eternity what happens to the dreams of our soul.
Maybe this resonates so sharply with me because I find myself in relationships with clergy who are more and more loosing the dreams of their call. They find themselves serving institutions and organizations as a necessary evil of “doing the work of the gospel” Their dreams as young men and women answering a call from God to offer a relevant gospel to their peers... for faith to be something that transforms all of creation, was lost somewhere in the trustees meeting over the color of the carpet at the church building or in questioning whether the doughnuts at coffee time should be powdered or have sprinkles... or (Insert your own misguided priority here). I hear more and more from my colleagues in ordained ministry and from seminary professors who are training a new generation of ministers, that it is increasingly difficult to live out a call from God in the church as we know it today. In fact I find more men and women NOT pursuing ordained ministry because if they do it means giving up a significant part of what they believe God is calling them to be. When we, who are frustrated, describe the type of church we dream of, the priorities and values that would guide it, we hear too often “we don’t have any churches like that” from our judicatories and cabinets. Even worse I hear from colleges who have been told “we don’t have churches like that, maybe you better just learn to serve the churches we have”. From an institutional standpoint I see the point, and in fact wouldn’t expect a different answer from cabinets and judicatories, but for those of us who desperately and passionately answered a call from God it sounds like “Sisyphus maybe you should just learn to love that rock”
I guess my point in all this is if you are one of those who has answered a call to serve God as a minister of the Gospel, or if you are feeling the inklings of that call, don’t give up on the dreams God’ breathes into your heart. Don’t settle for pushing a rock when your soul cries out for community and creation transformed by the Holy Spirit.
Friends live this gospel wherever you are, and never lose sight of what God is calling you to be. Tell Sisyphus what Isaiah told us. “A voice cries out: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Have a great week friends!